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It is the second prerequisite which requires a tour de force and a streak of imagination of which not everybody is capable. Without it you can never be a good theoretical linguist. You must be able to imagine that language grows like a crystal in predictable patterns.
You must be able to believe that pre-existing language resembles the Grand Canyon. Wild and romantic but structured in clearly discernible patterns. You must be able to study morphology, grammar, syntax, prefixes and suffixes as of they were layers of the Canyon wall, giving you orderly clues to its past, present and future.
Unfortunately, language is not structured like a crystal, it never is and never was. Otherwise the Italians would still speak Latin or a linear derivation thereof.
Language is not like the Grand Canyon. It has no orderly sequence of layers whose reading yields any results of practical significance. Language is a jungle that grows unpredictably in all directions at once. New words are created every day. New meanings are attached to old words every day. Formerly fashionable words slide into oblivion every day. No a single linguist predicted it. Each dictionary is obsolete the day it is printed. Except for the needs of historians, the only real language is the language of today.
If you want to be a competent linguist, you must leave the ivory tower, pickup your machete and venture into the jungle. You take a look at what has grown since yesterday and hack a path to the clearing called communication.
And if you can reach it, then you can teach others how to do the same. It is no accident that there are so few theoretical linguists among the top interpreters and translators of the world. Their training does not prepare them for coping with the rigors of the jungle. And many of them do not really wish to cope with reality. They prefer to build one Tower of Babel after another. For fifty years some of them have been building a general translation machine.
I am sure such a machine will eventually be constructed. But certainly not by theoretical linguists who think that by stuffing words, grammar, and syntax into a computer they will be able to make it create a translation.
What an absurd idea. Words, grammar and syntax are no more to translation than nails, hammer and saw to a carpenter. They are only incidental to the process. What would we think of a carpenter who would throw hammer, saw and nails at a pile of wood, expecting it to arrange itself into a cabinet?
Nobody can make a machine translate before having first correctly analyzed which processes -marvelous, ingenuous and highly complex processes- make a talented human being create a good translation. The hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on some machine translation projects could have built many schools of interpretation and translation with huge libraries and state-of-the-art equipment. And that would have made a useful contribution to international understanding.
Why do I dwell so long on theoretical linguistics? Not only because I have a certain bias against this discipline. I gladly admit that I do. It is because this discipline dominates so many language departments at universities, especially in the United States. The ivory tower mentality prevalent in this discipline is the chief stumbling block to developing useful language teaching programs and programs of interpretation and translation at many colleges and universities. They are the establishment.
They have the power. They control the purse. They define what language is supposed to be and what their university does in the field of languages. Back to diplomacy and its interpreters. What do we require of them? What can the university do to equip them for their profession? Diplomatic interpreters need to master consecutive interpreting.
But they also must be able to hold their own in simultaneous interpreting. The diplomatic interpreter must be a generalist. He may have to handle fifteen different subjects in one week. He will often encounter those subjects at a very high level of sophistication, as prime ministers, presidents, cabinet officers and negotiators usually have top experts at their side who may go into complex technical detail and into highly differentiated arguments. That is why the university is such an ideal place to train diplomatic interpreters.
A university usually teaches a wide range of subjects at a high level of sophistication. Many reputable diplomatic interpreters were trained at the Universities of Geneva, Mainz Germersheim and Paris, to give just three examples of universities with outstanding schools of interpretation and translation.
Basic courses in law, economics, natural sciences, philosophy, history, even engineering are an ideal preparation for diplomatic interpreting. Foreign languages and interpreting instruction are not enough. The more general education the better. Therefore it is important that interpreters not be locked into an ivory tower of their own while at a university interpreting school but be provided considerable exposure to the other university departments. The requirements for diplomatic translators overlap those of the interpreters in many areas.
They also must be generalists and should be trained with a wide variety of terminology and substantive exposure to various subjects. University translation programs usually include too many texts from international organizations because they are so readily available.
While this will benefit those students who will go on to work for such organizations, future diplomatic translators will encounter such texts infrequently when working for national governments. These are only half of the translation topics of the month. They readily illustrate why diplomatic translators must be generalists.
They also tell us that an educational background in law, economics, finance, natural sciences and engineering is often more helpful than knowledge of political science and the composition and procedures of international organizations.
Even less helpful is an extensive background in literary translations with which so many students get overdosed at university translating schools. That brings us to another interesting chamber of horrors in that particular ivory tower where curricula are designed without undue interference from the real world in which the students will have to make a living. On the wall of that chamber is a framed motto to guide the curriculum writer. Ryan's foot went out, his struggle to unwind shaking lanceolamente.
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- Datos personales
- Hispania. Volume 74, Number 1, March 1991
Visor de obras. :
A university usually teaches a wide range of subjects at a high level of sophistication. Interpreting was only mentioned in passing, if at all. You can engage in perverse acts with your own mother tongue.